[ed. note - “First of a two-part series on former MLB catcher.”]
WASHINGTON – When Michael Barrett made his Major League debut in 1998 as a third baseman, the person batting directly behind him in the lineup for the Montreal Expos was catcher Bob Henley.
Later, in 2001, Barrett, Sandy Martinez, and Randy Knorr were teammates on the Expos and then Barrett, a native of Atlanta who also was a catcher, was on the same team from 2005-07 with Henry Blanco on the Chicago Cubs.
Now, some two decades later, all four of the former Major League catchers have deep roots in player development in the Washington Nationals’ system.
Knorr was the Triple-A manager the past three seasons (counting 2020) and recently was added to the major league staff of Dave Martinez. That staff already featured Blanco and Henley while [Sandy] Martinez was to be the manager of the rookie Dominican Summer League team in 2020.
“I was fortunate to work with Bobby as a teammate, Henry Blanco as a teammate, Randy Knorr was a teammate, Sandy Martinez as a teammate,” Barrett, 44, the catching coordinator in player development, told Federal Baseball from his home in the Atlanta area after taking part in Instructional League last month.
Having that common bond can help in times of stress.
There may be a “... difficult conversation when you have a difference of opinion, where you may be able to get on the same page [that] has been really, really helpful for the catchers,” said Barrett, who has worked in player development for the Nationals since the 2014 season.
“They are tremendous coaches – all of them. They are tremendous managers, in their own way,” Barrett said.
Throw in Bob Boone, a former All-Star catcher and advisor to Mike Rizzo, and Matt LeCroy, a former Washington catcher who is now the quality control coordinator, and the organization has hired a wealth of knowledge from behind home plate.
The total numbers of years in the majors between the seven men - Barrett, Knorr, Martinez, Blanco, Henley, Boone, and LeCroy – is around 75 seasons.
Barrett, a high school star at Pace Academy in Atlanta, was a first-round pick of the Expos in 1995.
“Montreal had the best record in baseball the year I was drafted,” he noted.
His stops in the minor leagues included Delmarva, now a farm team of the Orioles; West Palm Beach, now the Spring Training home of the Nationals; and Double-A Harrisburg, which remains in the Eastern League and is now a farm team of the Nationals.
Barrett made his MLB debut in that September 1998 game against the Phillies and played with the Expos through the 2003 season. He played for the Cubs from 2004-07, San Diego in 2007-08, and Tampa Bay in 2009 in his last Major League season.
Overall he played in 885 games at catcher and 124 at third base in the majors. He hit 98 homers in his career with a batting average of .263. Another teammate when he was a rookie in 1998 was catcher Mike Hubbard, a native of Virginia who played in college at James Madison University.
Barrett was part of a strong Expos’ farm system and eventually Montreal moved to Washington in time for the 2005 season.
When his playing days were over, Barrett turned to his Montreal/Washington franchise roots when he became part of player development with the Nationals.
“The Nationals took it even a step further” than the Expos in player development, Barrett noted.
“The Lerner family has been able to provide every aspect of development, not just on the field but off the field.
“That is why we win championships, that is why we won the World Series” in 2019, he noted. “They are extremely loyal. I love the loyalty. The loyalty is my favorite thing.”
Barrett was speaking just a few days after The Athletic reported that the Nationals did not renew the contract of several scouts and minor league coaches.
That included Patrick Anderson and Billy Gardner, Jr., who had been minor league managers.
“I know the pandemic has created some difficult decisions,” Barrett said. “But as an organization … I don’t think anyone doubts where our hearts are. They are the most loyal organization in baseball and I absolutely love that.”
Barrett joined the Nationals as the manager in the Gulf Coast League in 2014 and then the next season became the catching coordinator.
“I love working with these guys, working will all of these men,” Barrett said. “I can’t say enough great things about the coordinators, and coaches and managers and our organization from top to bottom. They bring it every single day, all of them. I have really learned a lot of life lessons.”
Next: Barrett breaks down catchers in the minor league system